Friday, March 17, 2017

The Nestucca Oil Spill: A Disaster Close to Home

You need not look far to see the impact and potential of oil spills all around us
When we hear tales of catastrophic oil spills that make headlines across the world, such as the infamous Deepwater Horizon oil spill (or, as it's been come to known, the "BP Oil Spill"), something that I, and I'm sure others, tend to forget, is just how much these incidents are absolutely not isolated events. 

It is a tragic fact that oil spills occur on a variety of scales around the globe, each one just as harmful to our global ecosystem. Some, like the BP Oil Spill, receive far more press attention due to the enormity of the scale in which the disaster transpires, but that's not to say that unless it receives widespread press coverage, that oil spills are a rare occurrence. I believe a big step towards witching on an active social mindset geared towards a broader awareness of the hidden cost of oil, is recognizing that these disasters do happen far more often than we realize.

With the main hub of this blog being based out of Portland, OR, I'd like to highlight a little known oil spill that happened just off the Washington coast, just a little over 150 miles away from Portland. Even to this day, not much information is readily available online, despite the fact that the "oil barge accident near the entrance of Grays Harbor unleashed one of the most damaging spills in Northwest history"¹.

As touched upon by Powell & de Place (2015) in their suitably titled piece, "Washington State has Forgotten its own BP Oil Spill", despite the large scale and impact of the events that took place on that day, you would be hard pressed to find many familiar with this incident at all.

On December 21, 1988, just four days shy of Christmas, the Nestucca tanker barge was loaded up with 2.8 million gallons of fuel - interestingly enough from a BP refinery, no less. That evening, due to what would be later uncovered as corroded tow wiring, the Nestucca snapped away from it's leading tugboat, the Ocean Service, and started drifting uncontrollably towards shore. Despite the Captain's efforts to chuck in an emergency line to retrieve the barge and reel it back towards the Ocean Service, swells in the ocean caused both vessels to collide into one another. While crew members were able to hop onto the Nestucca, the damage had been done - a huge gash spanning six feet had torn apart one of the Nestucca's cargo tanks, and oil started flooding the waters.

To make matters worse, no recorded efforts were made to remedy the situation, with an entire week having gone by after the incident before it was officially reported that a whopping 231,000 gallons of oil had spilled into the Pacific ocean.

When I look at an incident like this, decades on, I see parallels with a lot of the issues we still face to this day when combatting these catastrophes. It leads me to wonder how many of these incidents continue to float under the radar and out of the greater public's consciousness. Perhaps a more vested interest in the part of a larger majority, with increased scrutiny, might lead to large companies such as BP to feel compelled to put in stronger safeguards. If these types of incidents continue to be swept under the rug, I fear that little progress will continue to be made, as our planet needs a larger voice to speak up on its part.

So I'd like to end this post by urging you to go onto google, and find out the nearest and most recent oil spill that occurred near you, and then share that information. We live in a digital age where our voices can be heard greater than ever, and it's up to us to ensure that we use that power we've been given. Read more about the hidden cost of oil on this site, take just a couple of minutes to learn more about these events as they happen around you, and make a conscious effort to really try and put into perspective just how impactful these events are.


¹T. P., & E. D. (n.d.). Washington State Has Forgotten Its Own BP Oil Spill. Retrieved March 14, 2017, from

²(n.d.). Retrieved March 14, 2017, from

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